As a British copywriter working in the American Midwest, there’s one question I am regularly asked: how do you write American English, though? Isn’t it hard?
The answer, dear reader, is that I have never written American English in my life, and nor have you. Because American English does not exist.
The Many American Englishes
When you think about American English, what comes to mind? A Midwestern news anchor? A southern preacher? Your cousin from Bawstin? American English is as varied as its speakers.
There’s geography - the pop/soda/coke divide, the “y’alls” and “you people”, all of which readily identify speakers to a native. There’s class, race, and age. Not to mention all the distinct cultural identities, from Juggalo floobs to gamers pwning.
And all these factors are just as rich and complex in British English. (You’ll never hear the Queen say “Oi”, or a cockney say “whom”. Such a pity.)
Taken together, all of these linguistic identifiers add depth and color to the rich tapestry of modern English. Remove those identifiers, and you end up with Standard English, the “correct” way to talk.
How being correct ruins writing
Standard English is terribly dull. It’s the vanilla of ice cream, the Ford Focus of cars, the Thomas Rhett of country music. Semi-ubiquitous, utterly forgettable and universally greeted with nothing more than an indifferent shrug.
This is because it lacks the idiosyncrasies that make up a personality – and when writing lacks character, it degenerates into the corporate global speak we see written in big letters on the billboards of multinationals. “Life is like a box of chocolates” is infinitely more interesting than “Life is complex”.
When we read, we want to sense the person behind those words – to hear their voice. And so when all cultural signifiers are stripped away, we’re left talking to… no one at all. Like a contestant in The Circle.
Which doesn’t make for good copy.
I write American Englishes
All of this is to say that I never wrote British English, and I don’t write American English now.
When I start a project, I work out who I want to be, and then I write from there. Sometimes I draw a little portrait of them, or make a Pinterest board like I’m planning my dream wedding. This step ground the tone of voice, and allows me to gut check if anything I’ve written feels out of character.
In this way, I’ve found writing American English is exactly the same as writing British English, so stop asking already!